Gay, white professor sues historically black university for discrimination

Dr. John Garland's lawsuit alleges that "a small, powerful group" worked to "destroy" his career, as well as the career of his husband.

Garland has sued the university, as well as eight current and former employees.

A white professor is suing Alabama State University (ASU) over claims the historically black university discriminated against him and his partner based on their race and sexual orientation.

According to the lawsuit filed in federal court on June 11, Dr. John Garland is suing the ASU and eight current and former employees for racially discriminating against applicants for university positions and subsequently targeting him when he retaliated against those practices.

“[Garland’s supervisor] expressed his opinion, stated or implied, that Dr. Garland did not belong at the University and was not ‘suited to [the University’s] type of students’ because Dr. Garland is not African-American,” the lawsuit states.

Garland, who is a member of the Choctaw Nation but is identified as white by colleagues, was hired by the university in August 2008 as an adjunct professor. In January 2009, Garland was rehired as an assistant professor for the Master of Rehabilitation Counseling Program in the Department of Rehabilitation Studies in the College of Health Sciences (COHS).

His white same-sex partner, Dr. Steven Chesbro, was hired at the university around that time. They legally married in Maryland in February 2013.

Chesbro is currently dean of COHS, which the lawsuit alleges that students and faculty commonly refer to as “the White House.” He has an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charge filed against the university. 

“A small, powerful group at the University believes that Drs. Garland and Chesbro have no place at the University simply because of their non-African-American or non-Black identity,” the lawsuit reads. “This group, including combinations of the individually named Defendants, have conspired to destroy the careers and employment of these two dedicated teachers.”

“Some administrators and faculty welcome and support Drs. Garland and Chesbro as colleagues, while others reluctantly accept their presence as a necessary evil due to legal considerations,” the lawsuit continues.

A university spokesperson declined to comment on the case as it’s an ongoing lawsuit.

“ASU has just been served with a copy of the lawsuit today and since it concerns an on-going and active lawsuit, the University has no comment about it,” ASU officials told Campus Reform in a statement.

According to the lawsuit, Garland was promised that he would be “laterally” transferred to a different position in 2013 due to the tense he had with his supervisor, a violation Garland’s contract. The transfer reduced his salary by $23,000 per year.

Garland also alleges that the university operator would incorrectly inform callers that he “no longer works” at the university. A university operator provided Campus Reform with Garland’s email address—albeit an incorrect one—but refused to state whether or not the professor was still actively employed at the university.

The 46-year-old professor argues he is “entitled to reinstatement to his former position, or a comparable position, and the removal of derogatory, defamatory, and inaccurate material from his personnel file, back pay and lost benefits and ‘freedom to work in a non-discriminatory, non-retaliatory, and non-hostile environment.”

Garland's lawyer, Wayne Sabel, told Campus Reform that both men plan to stay at ASU but "will continue to seek a favorable resolution to the issues raised in the lawsuit and charge." Sabel said the case is expected to be litigated over the next year or so.

Neither Garland nor Chesbro responded to requests for comment from Campus Reform. An automated email from Garland said he is out of the office until after July 7.

According to the Montgomery Advertiser, this isn’t the first discrimination suit ASU has faced in federal court. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a sexual and racial discrimination verdict which awarded $1 million in back pay and lost wages to three female employees in September 2013.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @K_Schallhorn